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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Iranian Film Festival at MFA, November 12 – December 12

Iranian Film Festival
Negar Mortazavi
Iranian Film Festival

In the early days of Iran’s post-Revolutionary cinema the only kind of historical films that were made, or were allowed to be made, were moralistic tales about pre-Revolutionary Iran full of corruption and temptation. Other significant events happened during or after the revolution, however they were forbidden subjects for reevaluation. This absence left a twenty-year gap in cinematic representation of historical events such as “The Cultural Revolution” and the Iran-Iraq war. This end has slowly begun to change in recent years. Iranian filmmakers have started to re-visit historical traumas that have been suppressed by the political establishment and the collective national memory.

The Tear of the Cold (Ashk-eh Sarma, Iran, 2004)Written and Directed by Azizollah Hamid-NezhadFeaturing : Parsa Piroozfar (Private Kyani),Golshifteh Farahani (Ronak).Music by : Saeed AnsariHamid-Nezhad’s The Tear of The Cold is a film about one of the suppressed historical events mentioned above, the civil war in Kudistan. The film takes place in the early 1980s, in the middle of that war, which was a brutal and bloody conflict that lasted for many years. Private Keyvan Kyani (Piroozfar), an intellectual engineer in the civil life, is serving to help his platoon find and diffuse landmines planted by the local Kurdish guerilla fighters. A caring soldier with a sensitive soul, Kyani is respectful of the local language, traditions and values. He is also so unique at his job that the Guerilla fighters aim to eliminate him. The agent appointed to perform this task is Ronak, a young Kurdish girl that appears to be a local shepherd who enjoys reading novels and writing poetry. After several meetings, Keyvan and Ronak form a very close bond, a tender bond that is not sexual or romantic. It is a poetic relationship that represents the identity of a nation split by cultural differences and political interests. The question is whether such violent and hostile elements, represented by the national army of the revolution and the Guerillas, would tolerate tenderness and dialogue. The political perspective of The Tear of The Cold is sure to be criticized in many ways. The point is not so much about the political correctness of the film, as it is about the phenomena of dialogue between mortal enemies, an uncommon occurrence in middle-eastern history and something hard to achieve.

* photos are available from Tear of the cold

Iranian Film Festival and Boston Jewish Film Festival Present :The First Letter (Abjad, Iran/France,2003)Written and Directed by Abolfazl JaliliFeaturing : Mehdi Morady, Abdolreza Akbari, Fariba Khademy, Mina Molania, Sharare Roohy.

The First Letter is an autobiography that takes place in the pre-revolutionary Iran. It is a story of a common Muslim teenage boy, Emkan (that means “possibility” in the Persian language), trying to adjust to the complicated codes of a non-stable society, struggling between the dominant religious traditions of Islam, and new secular atmosphere imposed by the government. He is not so much of an articulate rebel, which is why he is kicked out of school, but rather an innocent soul without mechanisms to filter his truthful observations, or to conceal his inner feelings from adults. Raised in a traditional Muslim family who sends him to Quran classes after school, Emkan falls in love with his Jewish classmate and neighbor, not realizing the prohibition against such a union from both communities.

He is kicked out of school for organizing a strike against the new non-eligible principle chosen by the government and banned from public education for being a “Rebel”. The same boy, who knows the whole Quran by heart and recites for the local Mosque at every prayer, also recites verses of secular revolutionary poetry for the religious figure who is testing him for admission to a seminary school! Ironically, the same qualities that make Emkan an outcast from most social institutions of the time are also the ones that help him bring out his most sincere and creative potentials. Years after the revolution, having lost his parents and hit a dead-end in almost every path in his life, Emkan becomes a filmmaker trying to make an autobiography.

Abolfazl Jalili is widely considered one of the new masters of Iranian cinema, but his works were mostly unknown outside of Iran, until recently. Two factors might have worked for this reason: his non-linear slow paced narratives do not do well in other parts of the world, and also his audience has been limited in Iran. This situation will probably change with the release of The First Letter, his most accessible film to date. In contrast to his other films, in which time and location are vaguely-defined, The First Letter follows a pretty straightforward order of historical events established by specific references to the real world, including his own life-story. The First Letter has a very unique and new character like no other movie of this festival. The film shows an intimate inter-cultural relationship between Muslim and Jewish people, making it the only film showing at both the Jewish film festival and Iranian film festival! The First Letter shows the elegance of intimate bonds that can always form between the most contrasting systems. Nothing can stop a sincere soul, not even the strongest belief system.

The 14-program festival opened on Friday, November 12th with Dariush Mehrjui’s recent comedy Mama’s Guest, and will continue through December 12th. Movies are made by a variety of Iranian filmmakers from different age, class and fame. Including two of the world’s most recognized artists and their newest works: Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 on Ten (on November 27th) and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Afghan Alphabet (on December 3rd and 11th)..All films are in Persian with English subtitles. Classical Iranian Music performances included are a free concert with the recognized Boston area Saba Ensemble (on November 13th) and an evening with the prestigious Zolfonoun Ensemble (on November 20th), featuring Maestro Mahmoud Zolfonoun.

The Boston Festival of Films from Iran held at the MFA Boston is one of the most extensive showcases of contemporary Iranian films in the United States. In its 11th annual celebration, the festival was expanded to include two performances of Iranian Classical music this year. Programmed and organized by the MFA and made possible with the support of the ILEX Foundation, highlights from this year’s festival are also presented at the Freer and Sachler Galleries of Art in Washington,DC (January 7 – February 6), the Asia Society in New York (December 3 and 4), and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (January 14- January 23).